Sunday, April 23, 2017

Why I'm ditching the word "threenager"

My son Henry is three now. Three years is simultaneously one of the hardest and best ages. I can't deny it is hard. Everyone talks about two year olds as the worst but three has been by far the hardest for us. It isn't easy! Three is full of independence, self sufficiency, expression of complex emotions and learning social skills. These are not easy for child and caregiver to navigate. It is exhausting and frustrating. One moment they act like a "big kid" and the next they seem like a baby. They are in transition.

There's this phrase people use to talk about three years olds. Have you heard it before? "Threenager". "My kid is being such a threenager today!" This phrase has become quite popular in parenting circles and I hear it all the time.

I think the reason using the "threenager" phase is so popular is because people can see so many similarities. The problem is that we use this phrase for three year olds so negatively and consequently so negatively for teenagers. Teenagers are changing and growing in their independence, there can be a lot of high emotions and they are focused on their social circles. Teenagers are also deepening their sense of love and commitment in relationships, finding their passions and taking on new responsibilities. One moment they act like an adult and the next they seem like a child. They are in transition.

I have worked with both preschoolers and teenagers at the same time for most of my adult life as a preschool teacher and a youth worker. They do feel very similar some times (Like that time I finger painted with middle school kids at youth group and it was the best thing of their life). Three year olds and teenagers have much to teach us if we listen. If only we could just slow down with them enough to find the root of the issue they are having and lead with empathy. You are an example when your child is three years old and 13 years old. You are the adult. The way that you solve problems, communicate with family and friends and manage your emotions are the example they will see and emulate.

And I know you're probably going to call me a killjoy. "Gosh Amanda, it's just funny.  It's just a way for me to get out the frustration of dealing with them." And you can and should find healthy ways to release that frustration in a very difficult time of development. But I would challenge you to see the ways in which using this phrase could be coloring the lenses with which you see your child. What if we started calling three's the "transparent three's" the "thoughtful three's" or the "tender three's." How would these change the way we see them? Maybe it won't. But maybe, just maybe, it could predispose you to see the wonder, excitement, imagination and creativity of three (and teen).


Going forward:

1) Spend some time thinking about your child and list three things you admire about their personality. Post them in a place you will regularly see them.

2) Try to find space for yourself to recharge once a week. One moment of filling your own cup can extend the longevity of pouring from it and giving of yourself. Even if you only have 10 minutes, do something that is just for you.

3) Try to make connection a regular part of your routine with your child. Go out one on one and spend time doing something they enjoy and enjoy them! Schedules get busy, I know. Set a goal that works for your family. Once a week? Once a month? You will know.

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